AUGUSTA – Playing with two players who have major championships on their resume, including a Masters, Russell Henley looked like the player who is ready to compete for a major title this week.
Henley shot a 4-under-par 68 on Thursday in the first round at the Masters and is right in the hunt after his first round in the 60s in his third appearance at Augusta National Golf Club.
Playing partners Darren Clarke and Vijay Singh shot 74 and 75, respectively. Clarke owns a British Open title, while Singh has won the Masters once and the PGA Championship twice.
“I feel like I rode a little bit of momentum from last week in Houston in (Thursday’s) round,” said Henley, who finished fourth last week. “I felt like last week I hit my driver really well and hit a lot of fairways, also hit a lot of greens and just with a couple little simple swing thoughts that didn't really feel like I was doing much but really have been working for me and have just been riding that momentum last week.
“For some reason (Thursday) on the first tee, I wasn't quite as nervy as the last two years and just had a ball. Obviously it's fun to shoot under par at Augusta, and I'm just very thankful I could finally shoot one in the 60s.”
Henley kept his round in place early with a couple of nice pars on Nos. 3 and 4, and then he really got going with his first birdie on the fifth hole. He also had birdies on Nos. 8, 9, 14 and 15 and only had one bogey – on No. 11.
“I thought that on (No.) 3, I hit a pretty decent putt, and then I ended up actually almost going off the green and made that coming back. And that gave me some confidence,” Henley said. “I heard my brother yell in the crowd, and that made me laugh and loosened me up a little bit.
“On (No.) 4, I made a nice 15-footer, or I don't know how long that was, for par. From there, I felt like I was going to make everything. So it was just kind of a momentum thing, I guess.”
That momentum was there throughout the rest of the round with the sets of back-to-back birdies.
He made a 9-foot putt on the eighth hole and then knocked in a 19-footer on No. 9 after his tee shot was right in the trees. On No. 14, he made a 28-footer and then punched in a 4-footer on No. 15 after reaching the green in two.
“I do (feel that momentum),” Henley said. “For me, I start craving it, ‘Let's go do it again; let's go do it again.’ I think, for sure, it builds, and that gave me a lot of confidence.
“The putt on (No.) 14 was one of the best putts I've ever made out here, super tricky to read. And the only reason I made that is just because I finished on the wrong side of the hole a bunch of times. That gave me a lot of confidence going into the last couple.”